Vail Daily editorial: Is this the year?
January 24, 2017
If you've driven from, say, Gypsum to Denver lately, you know Interstate 70 is a mess. The constant is the damage on that road, as well as other state highways.
Winter is tough on roads. That's especially true during periods when a lot of snow combines with warm daytime temperatures and cold temps at night. That's as certain a recipe for potholes as spring rain on newly planted seeds is the formula for May flowers.
There isn't much to do about the fresh damage. Solid patches require hot asphalt and warm days. That leaves temporary patches at the best solution for the worst damage.
Ultimately, better road repairs start with better roads, and that takes money the state doesn't have at the moment.
While the Colorado Department of Transportation has for decades cried poverty at varying volumes, it's a fact there simply isn't much money for repair work, much less improving the state's highway system. It's also a fact that the state hasn't raised the gasoline tax — now at 22 cents per gallon — since the early 1990s.
Like many issues, improving the state's roads has fallen into a partisan vortex in the Colorado Legislature, so funding lags farther and farther behind needs.
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With about 10,000 new residents pouring into Colorado every month, legislators may finally be spurred to action. There's serious talk this session about some sort of tax increase to pay for the maintenance and construction backlog.
Talk right now seems to be focused on a sales tax. It would most quickly generate the largest revenue stream. That funding could then be used to re-pay bonds issued to do the most work most quickly.
A sensible tax increase might pass muster with state voters — if any proposal comes with a specific list of where the money will go — but a sales tax isn't the best idea.
The biggest problem with a state sales tax increase is the burden would fall disproportionately on lower-income residents.
A better idea would be to increase the state's gas tax. While still regressive, those who use the most fuel would pay the biggest share. Yes, that would probably hit hardest on the Western Slope, where driving distances are usually greater. Still, it seems the most fair solution.
New revenue should also come with increased registration fees for owners of hybrid and electric vehicles, people who use less fuel to drive similar distances.
There's a lot to hammer out at the legislature before voters see any proposal this fall. Many Republicans will demand that road tax increases come with offsets elsewhere, and Democrats will argue to maintain any proposed cuts. There's certainly no guarantee of success.
But how much more must our roads deteriorate before partisans finally turn into pragmatists and finally bring voters a possible solution?
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